Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sweet little Scout!

Okay...I couldn't resist writing about my older cat, Scout.  I've talked a little about her in other posts, and she's a constant source of joy and humor for me.  I just adore her!  And I tell her quite often that she's lucky I do, because she hasn't always been the easiest cat to love!

Scout is the ultimate 'queen' of her domain, and has taken a lot of moments throughout her life to remind me of this.  It started from day one, when I went to the local humane society to choose a kitten.  They had beautiful cats that would melt the hardest of hearts, but I really wanted a kitten...and one cage in particular caught my eye.  Two little 4 month old beige kitties were inside of it, a furry little brother and sister.  The brother was right up at the front of the cage, fluffy white cheeks the only thing distinguishing him from his sister...that, and the fact that he was meowing his little head off.  "PICK ME, PICK ME!" he seemed to scream, as he started to climb the door.  He was ADORABLE...and probably would have been a loving, cuddly, lap-sitting kitty.  So of course, I had to choose the other one!  Was this my first mistake??  I actually believe it was the first moment of a tenuous, claw filled love between a cat and her Mommy, that was destined to happen.  At least I'd like to think so!

The soon-to-be-queen of my apartment was curled up into a tiny little beige ball at the back of the cage, peacefully sleeping away, oblivious to her brother's frantic meows.  Oh, how PRECIOUS!!  I thought to myself.  And as I was only allowed one kitten where I lived, I had to choose which one to take home, although it broke my heart to separate them.  If it wasn't for that rule, I would have adopted both kittens.   I figured I should choose the quiet one...my landlord was an elderly woman, and I lived above her in her 2nd floor apartment.  She might not appreciate a cat that meowed constantly, no matter how cute he was!  And so I became the proud mom of a tiny beige short-haired female cat.  The first indication that I was in for a loving, yet stressful relationship with this cat was when she started running after me (and anyone else she could reach,) biting my ankles whenever I walked around...at least when I had bare feet.  In fact, she had a fascination with bare skin in general, and felt the need to sink her teeth into any flesh within biting distance.  Sleeping became an art form!  Scout slept by my feet every night, and Heaven help me if they got too hot...I would be jolted out of a deep sleep as she impaled my skin with those sharp little teeth!  Did I mention I love her??

And so our relationship has continued, and Scout has dictated every moment of it.  She has never been a lap sitter, and in fact has never allowed you to hold her for more than a few minutes at a time...after which she would growl, or even give you a little bite to tell you it was time to PUT HER DOWN!    I also have mentioned before that Scout is disabled from a bad reaction to anesthesia when she was four years old...it effected her nervous system, and definitely slowed her down.  But it certainly didn't stop her!  She has become a prize winning adapter to her world, and has carried on all these years...a little shakier, but just as opinionated!  Scout is 13 now, still very tiny (she never grew above 4 pounds,) and even shakier than in the past.  She has adapted to her inability to walk properly by learning how to hop.  I call her my little bunny rabbit, as she hops around the apartment.  In her old age she has begun to ask me for food INCESSANTLY, and quite frankly drives me a little batty!!  Anyone with food in their hands is easy prey, and if she can't physically get to you to scarf down whatever you're holding, she'll give you the stink eye from across the room.  My sister barely got away with all her limbs intact when she was visiting over Thanksgiving, innocently trying to eat a piece of lasagna.  Yes, Scout will eat lasagna.  And peas.  And asparagus.  And marshmallows.  And she would probably sell me to the gypsies for a lousy potato chip.  I really could go on about this for hours! 

But I digress.  Let me finish instead with an embarrassing story that happened last week, on a shopping trip to Ocean State Job Lots with my mother.  This store has great deals, and we were determined to walk through the entire store so we wouldn't miss anything.  As an ever vigilant cat mommy I of course was looking for anything I could bring home to them...and in the past couple of years, Scout has developed an 'accident problem' and can't always make it to the litter box.  (And sometimes she forgets the litter box exists, I think!)  I found out through a friend that Walmart sells 'pee pads' that are meant for elderly and/or incontinent adults, sold in the adult diaper isle.  I have never found these anywhere else, even in local pharmacies.  Life has become a lot easier now that we have these...wherever Scout is sleeping, there's a pad under her just in case.  I even considered taping one to her, but decided I wanted to keep my skin where it was!  So while I was at OSJLots, I figured I should see if they had any.  Now, I didn't want to just go up to a salesperson and ask if they had adult diapers...that seemed a little embarrassing.  So I walked up to a woman who was stocking shelves.  "Excuse me...I have an elderly cat who sometimes has accidents.  I use pee pads that are actually made for people--they're usually found with adult diapers.  Do you have adult diapers?"  Okay, granted...maybe a little wordy, but you understood that, right?  RIGHT??  Well, she didn't.  Turning to a co-worker, she said "Mary, where are those puppy pee pads?  I know we have those..."  I interrupted, "No, not puppy pee pads...those are scented, so the puppy WANTS to go on them.  I use pee pads that are meant for people, which are kept with the adult diapers.  Do you have adult diapers??"  (Seriously...how many times can you use the words 'adult' and 'diapers' in the same sentence?  A LOT, apparently!)

So she turns to Mary again..."Don't we have doggie diapers, too?  I think they're in the back by the pet food..."  "No" I interrupt again, "Not doggie diapers.  I don't want doggie diapers.  I need pee pads meant for PEOPLE...near the ADULT DIAPERS.  Do you HAVE adult diapers???"  Then she decided to leave Mary out of this one, and said to me directly, "I think the puppy pee pads are in the middle of the store, and the puppy diapers are in the back..."  (Really...what is the problem, here?  Am I speaking GERMAN??)  And what followed was another one of those moments where I was ever so SLIGHTLY lacking in grace..."NO!!!!!  DO YOU HAVE ADULT DIAPERS???!!!!" I screamed.  So much for escaping embarrassment.  About 10 different people turned their heads to look at this crazy, frazzled woman who was screaming in desperation, about to have a MAJOR ACCIDENT if she didn't get some adult diapers, RIGHT NOW!!   

And believe me...this is not the first, and most likely not the LAST time I will make a complete ass of myself in public, all because of this tiny little bundle of fur who rules my world.  When the next moment arrives I will be sure to share that with you as well...after all, I have two bundles of fur at home.  If Scout's not driving me crazy, my younger cat Shay makes sure to fill in the gaps.  And why do I let this continue?  Because I love them, of course, and don't really know how to stop their craziness...after all, I'm just here to open the cans!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

My Gratitude List

It's time to be honest with you again, dear readers...as it is often difficult for me to resist the impulse to bare my soul when I'm faced with a blank computer screen!  I was sitting here thinking about Thanksgiving, reminiscing about the past, realizing where I am in life and what I have to be grateful for.  I have to admit...Thanksgiving is not really one of my favorite holidays.  It seems too often that it becomes the excuse to eat WAY too much in a short amount of time, loosen your belt and belch until you fall asleep.  Plus, unlike Christmas (my FAVORITE holiday,) you don't get to give and receive gifts!  I mean, where's the fun in that??  Though Thanksgiving can also be a time when we truly give thanks for the people in our lives and the things we have, and hopefully it is also a time when we look beyond ourselves and 'pay it forward' by helping others.  And this is what I choose to talk about today.

Paying it forward shouldn't just be a once a year thing...it should extend throughout the year, and come as naturally to us as breathing.  I know this isn't the case.  We tend to get so wrapped up in our own lives, our own stresses, even our own joys.  I'm guilty of this too...it's human, to get caught up in things, and takes some effort to extend help and thought to others.  I started thinking about a time I was lucky enough to witness a purely selfless act...so let me share this little story with you.  I mentioned in past postings that I used to teach Special Education.  A very rewarding job, though it can also be very tiring.  Often the obstacles faced by your students seem so large, and are difficult for them to reach and overcome.  Sometimes progress comes a little at a time.  It can be upsetting and frustrating to watch them struggle with things, but you keep going...if for no other reason, because of the knowledge that they will make progress if given the chance.

The last school I worked in was in the Catskills, in a very small community.  I had a diverse group of students, ranging from grades K-2nd...with a mix of physical, emotional and cognitive disabilities.  Many dealt with multiple issues.  On top of that, most of my class came from poor families, giving them even more obstacles and challenges to face.  As a group we shared many similarities, because we had all faced discrimination of some sort...even the youngest students in my class.  We often focused group projects on facing these extra challenges as we went out into the world, and learned to accept each other for our strengths and our weaknesses.  Because of this, we became more than a classroom; we became a family.  I got a taste of just how much like a family we had become, and it's a memory I will always cherish. 

Our school had a school store from which children could buy school supplies, little books and toys, and was open during lunch and recess hours.  It was during one of my down times of the day, when my 2nd graders were at lunch, and Kindergarten/1st grade students were at different special classes such as music and gym.  I was preparing the classroom for the afternoon, setting up different stations for each grade to work at when everyone returned.

All of a sudden I looked up, and there stood one of my second graders.  For the purposes of story telling I'll call him Matthew (which of course is not his real name.)  Matthew was a very quiet, shy boy who dealt with learning difficulties across the curriculum, and spent much of his day in my classroom.  For two hours each day he would join his 2nd grade class, and his Regular Education teacher and I collaborated on adjusting the curriculum to meet Matthew's needs.  I was surprised to see him standing in front of me, as normally the students who came back to my classroom during lunch/recess did so because of social and behavioral issues.  Despite being so shy, Matthew got along with most of the other students in his grade and was very friendly toward others.  He didn't seem to be upset in any way, and just stood there looking at me, holding something hidden in his hands.  "Matthew...what are you doing here?  Shouldn't you be at lunch?"

"Um...my mom gave me 35 cents to buy myself a toy, Ms. Hook.  So I went to the store to get one...but I saw this little story about bears.  I thought Carrie would like it...so I got it for her instead.  Could I put it in her chair so it'll be a surprise?"  Carrie (also a fictitious name,) was one of my Kindergartners, who had Cerebral Palsy, and sat in a special adapted chair when working at the table.  Although Matthew and Carrie knew each other and worked together sometimes in large group activities,  they were in different grades...and mostly worked separately in classroom centers according to their different curricula.  Matthew was also from a very poor family.  He was not a child who bought toys and other things from the school store often, and 35 cents (though it may seem small,) could not be spent frivolously.  It was a special treat that his mom had given him, yet instead of taking it for himself, Matthew chose to spend his money on someone else...just to make her smile.

As I sit here reminiscing about that moment, I begin to really think about who and what I am grateful for.  My family is at the top of my list...my loving parents who make me laugh, offer help when I need it and stand back when I don't (well, okay...maybe not ALL the time, but for the most part!)  My sister and brother who helped their youngest sister grow up by showing her how to do things, protected her when she needed it and teased her relentlessly (I maybe could have done with a little LESS of that, but like all of us who are the youngest in our families, I survived!)  And my brother's family...his wife, who makes me laugh and whose own laugh is contagious, and their two beautiful, smart daughters who make me very proud to be an aunt!  My friends rank very high on my gratitude list as well...I have just a few close friends but they are all so special to me and will always remain that way!  I'm of course thankful for my health, for I am basically healthy (despite the physical issues I deal with,) and I am grateful to have a safe, warm place to live and food in my fridge to eat.

These people and things are at the top of my list.  Though beyond the main list of things I am grateful for, are those tiny, little memories that will pop into my head when I least expect it...and I realize how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to see what true selflessness is.  So I will tuck this little memory away as I put on my stretchy pants and enjoy today's Thanksgiving with my family, and know that there are people like Matthew out there in the world, who are paying it forward and thinking of others.  And for this, I am truly grateful!           

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Hogwarts is back!

So break out your wands, and fasten your robes...The next Harry Potter movie came out on November 19th!  Or should I say the FIRST part of J.K.Rowling's book Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out, which is sure to have all the HP fans out there salivating for the finale!  If you've read this blog and looked at my profile, you may have noticed that I am a HUGE fan of these books...I reread them at least once a year--yes, all seven of them.  I even have the Scene It-Harry Potter trivia game, not to mention Harry Potter Clue.  (Yes, I really am 39.  I'm a book nerd...what can I say?)  Though, I may add, my father is also a fan of these books...and one of our favorite pastimes is to call each other and pose very obscure HP trivia questions to stump one another so we can finally be declared the WINNER.  Neither one of us has actually won this game...it's rather endless.  And my father is...well, let's just say he's older than 39.  Age has no limits when it comes to great literature! 

Now, as much as I would love to have been sitting in the movie theater at 11:59 pm on Friday night, as the lights went down and that famous Harry Potter music began, I have to admit...I wasn't there.  It's not that I'm less of a fan that I claim to be.  And it's not that I'm scared to see the movie, or that I'm afraid of dark movie theaters.  When I do go and see it I am sure there will be moments that I am sitting on the edge of my seat, gripping the arm in anticipation.  And despite reading the books a million times, this movie will shock me one moment and make me cry the next.  Of that I have no doubt!  None of that scares me...though what's going on beyond the movie screen does, however.  The truth of it is that I am not very good with crowds...the more people around me, the more my anxiety builds.  I would love to have a wand hidden up my sleeve, that I could whip out at any given moment, while I scream "STUPIFY!!!" and stun the crowd so that I can move through them unharmed...or use a banishing charm and part them like the Red Sea.  Unfortunately I do not come equipped with a wand, though if I could figure out how to get one, that would be REALLY AWESOME!!  But for now I just have to wait a week or two, and THEN go to see the most exciting movie of the year.  It's a good thing I'm patient!

You see, there are many little details you have to consider when you are disabled.  They can be annoying, nagging little details, but they need to be considered nonetheless.  This never goes away, no matter what the situation is...even if it's watching a movie I've waited so long to see.  How big is the mall where the movie theater presides?  How far do I have to walk to get to the theater?  Will I have to stand in line to get tickets?  Will there be anywhere to sit down if I need to?  And the main reason I wait a few weeks...how crowded will it be?  It's not that I dislike people.  But as with the furry little mouse visitor I had in my old apartment, people can also be unpredictable.  And the bigger the crowd, the more unpredictability there can be.  The older I get the more I notice that people just don't pay attention.  Although I do not believe it's ever been on purpose, I've been stepped on, knocked into, and actually been knocked over.  Because I have balance issues things like that can happen quite easily.  And I'm not sure how to avoid these situations, short of putting lit fireworks in my coat pockets to scare people enough so they notice I'm there, or avoid taking showers for months at a time so they are repelled by the smell.  Neither option sounds appealing, so my best bet is to not put myself into these situations in the first place!

So I will wait.  And as anxious as I am to see this movie, I will have to curb my desires and settle for breaking open the first of Rowling's Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.  After all, it's been about eight months.  But seriously...anyone know where I can get a WAND??

Sunday, November 14, 2010

My Happy Place

I'm getting started on this posting pretty late this week...I've been sick, unfortunately, with a lovely green-snot-filled sinus infection!  Oh joy!  Such is the time of year, I suppose.  As the weather turns colder and the color of the leaves begin to change, many of us are filled with a sense of peace and happiness.  I, however, am filled with phlegm.  This season is my least favorite, although as an artist and a native of New York I do appreciate the beauty of it.  That appreciation lasts about five minutes long, though...after which my eyes start watering and it blurs my vision!

So as I have been going through the tissues and putting hot/cold packs on my forehead, I have been dreaming of my happy place.  Many of us have a place where we feel utterly calm, away from the pressures of life.  Some of these places only exist in our minds, such as a deserted island we have never seen, a beautiful beach we have never walked on...a little log cabin in the woods with a roaring fireplace we have never lit.  I am lucky in the fact that my place actually exists, and the first time I was there my mother was still pregnant with me.  It has been kismet ever since!  So where is it?  In a little town called Schroon Lake, deep in the Adirondacks.  39 years ago, my parents searched for a summer getaway, finally settling on a little camp in Schroon.  It's not a log cabin, and we don't have a fireplace...but it doesn't matter.  It's my favorite place in the world!  It's a place where I can just BE...whether I am sitting on the porch reading a book, or in the back yard which faces the woods.  I can go there and just be at peace with myself, and not think about my daily stresses.  I'm able to shut out the noise, turn off my mind, stop thinking of work and finances and even my disability....none of it matters there.  It's a place I can meditate, or create, or just be still and do nothing...it is blissful!

So sitting here with my nose stuffed to the rafters and tissues in my sleeve, I got to thinking about camp.  The house isn't winterized, so I can only physically enjoy it in the summer.  Though I have my memories of childhood summers spent there, to sustain me for the rest of the year.  One of my favorites is of my family sitting around the kitchen table, playing board games such as Pit (a card game about the stock market,) and Bingo.  These games didn't have bells or whistles (oh wait-the Pit game did include a bell...but you know what I mean!)  There was nothing to plug in or turn on...no electronics whatsoever.  In fact, the Bingo markers were buttons my mother had saved over the years, which were placed on old game cards we would use over and over.  There was no Facebook, or Wii, or even a computer...there still isn't.  And living in such a technologically advanced society, you would think I would miss these things whenever I am there...but surprisingly, I never do.  It's a chance to break out those games once again, which are even older now and a little musty, and recreate some of the best times in my life!

Maybe you are wondering where I am going with this...and worrying that the nasal spray has clouded my senses!  Well, I am feeling a little foggy-but don't worry.  I do have a point.  As I have mentioned in the majority of my posts, we all have stress...some of us deal with very difficult issues in our lives.  It can often be very hard to see around these issues...we wake up thinking about them, they plague us throughout the day and in many cases we go to sleep worrying about them as well.  And then the alarm clock goes off and the cycle starts all over again.  This is not to say that life is always a stress filled balloon about to pop...life can also be wonderful!  It is a constantly changing force, with a mix of good and bad, which challenges us and makes us think.  I guess my point is this...if you have a happy place that fills you with a sense of peace, use it.  Appreciate it.  Be GRATEFUL for it!  And if you don't have a place, then search hard for one...even if it is a meditative retreat you can only visualize in your mind.  Even if it's as simple as the bathroom, with the door locked, candles and a hot bath.  It fortifies you and helps make you stronger, so when life throws those big obstacles in your way you can handle the climb.

I realize this has been one of my shortest posts, and maybe not as gripping and enlightening as some other things I have written for this blog...there wasn't even a mouse involved!  But that's okay.  If I have inspired just one person to find the calm, go back to basics and create some happy memories, then it was worth it!  As I leave you with that, I think I'll take my tissues and nasal spray back to bed, dream of camp and RELAX.        

Sunday, November 7, 2010


November 4th was my birthday!  YAY!!!  I would have started this new post then, but had such a great day (despite the lousy weather,) that I ran out of time.  So in the spirit of great birthdays, before I turn to more serious topics, please join me in a little song!

dah..nah..nah..nah, let's CELEBRATE!

dah..nah..nah..nah, let's CELEBRATE!

There's a PARTY goin' on right here...
A CELEBRATION, to last throughout the years!
So bring your good times,
And your laughter too...

We gonna CELEBRATE your
party with you!


Ahemmmm...Okay.  It's out of my system!  I just can't help myself...there's somethin' about a good birthday that sets my toes to tappin'!  I've had 39 years of great birthdays, and am looking forward to many more!  And I have to say, I struggled with coming up with an idea for this week's post, because of all the birthday madness going on.  But I think I need to devote today's writing to the ever dwindling economy.  Boy...that's a joyous topic!  Maybe I should have saved that song for the end...

As all of us attempt to stretch our finances and pay our bills, the road to security may seem long.  There are many different situations out there...the struggling business owner trying to keep afloat, the single mom working two jobs to put food on the table...the many people out of work due to layoffs and closing businesses, searching hard for a new job.  Though I can only draw from my own experiences, which include having to give up my occupation because of an injury I had years ago, and needing to reinvent myself.  Unfortunately my new self is not a multi-millionaire (hmmm...maybe I should have worked harder at that!)  And while struggling to pay all of my bills is an endless, difficult process, having to reinvent myself was even harder.  For seven years I answered 'Special Education Teacher' when asked what I did for a living.  Being a Spec. Ed. teacher was my main identity...I had already finished college and started teaching before my disability was diagnosed, so when I described myself I did not say I was a disabled person, only that I was a teacher.   When I finally was diagnosed, I became a 'Special Education teacher who is also disabled.'  It was like my identity was finally complete!  I had always understood my students and the challenges they faced, because I had faced many of the same challenges...and now I finally knew the reason.

Now, I wasn't rolling in the dough while I was teaching.  Anyone who teaches knows that you don't go into that profession for the money.  You go into it because you love children, and want to help them learn and grow...it takes a lot of understanding, a willingness to work well beyond the 8-3:00 school day, and an endless supply of patience!  I wanted to help children with physical and cognitive limitations overcome the many obstacles in front of them, and teach them to deal with the discrimination they would face throughout their lives.  For seven years I was able to do that and felt like I had a real purpose in life.  And though I wasn't rolling in money I was comfortable enough, and had a sense of security.  Then an injury that happened in the span of about 30 seconds changed all of that.  I won't go into all of the gory details of the injury, because I don't wish to relive it...it was hard enough the first time.  And despite the quickness in which it happened, the recovery was extremely long!  As I mentioned in an earlier post, for two years I wasn't allowed to work at all, and assumed that after those two years I would go back to my regular life and resume my identity as a teacher.  But that was not the case.  My doctor put it very simply..."Christine, you cannot be a Special Education Teacher anymore.  It puts way too much stress on your body--you need to find a new occupation."  WHAT??!!  A new occupation??  But how do I do...WHAT??!!  I was lost...I had taught for seven years, not to mention all the years of college that came before it.  And for what?  To lose it all, and have to start all over again with something new?  Not only that, but my something 'new' had to fit within unfamiliar parameters...I was now only allowed to work 20 hours per week, at a sedentary job with limitations on how long I sat, stood, how much I lifted...the list went on and on.  All of a sudden my identity I had worked so hard for was stripped away...I wasn't sure who to be anymore.  I felt like Superman might feel if he lost his powers, and someone hid his suit.

And I was one of the lucky ones...surprisingly enough.  I have a family that helps when help is needed, and wonderful understanding friends, and was able to depend on them during those years of recovery.  And along with Social Security Disability (which now pays some of my expenses,) I did find that sedentary job that fit within all the new rules; working part time for my chiropractor in her front office.  Physically I am doing much better than I have done in the past, what with working at a job that doesn't hurt me and getting regular chiropractic treatment...plus my weekly pool therapy fits nicely into my schedule!  But financially?  I struggle...as most of us are doing right now.  The bills roll in faster than the money, unfortunately!  And I've attempted to find other part time work I could do at home that might bring in more funds, though the only thing I have found so far is telecommunication.  Which basically means having a phone line set up in my home so I can deal with unhappy customers...and I'm just not ready to go there yet.  Although I have a pleasant phone voice and a nice demeanor, I'm not sure I'd be very good at helping someone who's angry at the fact that their Thigh Master obviously is defective, because they still can't fit into their skinny jeans.  My response might not be altogether appropriate, and I can't imagine I'd have that job for very long!

As for the identity?  That is a work in progress, I guess.  I've been able to devote more time to art, and with this new blog I am delving deeper into the world of writing.  I am still searching for my true purpose in life, as I'm sure a lot of us are.  And with the economy being what it is, though the circumstances might be different, I know that many people out there are also struggling to find new identities...when the business they struggled to develop goes under, or they lose a job they worked at for years.  I am not sure what the future holds for me, financially or otherwise, and hope the economical status of this country soon changes for the better.  Though I have learned the hard way that things may not always be as secure as they seem, and you may not be prepared for every event that comes your way.  What is secure, if you are lucky enough to have it, is the love of family and friends.  That is security you can count on that can help you through the tough times; it is security you can provide as well, even if it's only a shoulder to cry on or a willingness to listen.  Hmmm...maybe that purpose I've been searching for has been in front of me all along?  To hold onto the things that truly matter most: friends, family, and love.  To be thankful for what you have and can count on, and give back to others whenever possible.  You may still struggle each month to pay all those bills, and may not have money to buy the extras you wish you had; but if you have the love of family and friends in your life, you will truly be rich.  And that's a reason to CELEBRATE!